Owens boys ready to do battle
Kyle Owens says he can live with a bit of family tension if he upsets his big brother Jordan in today's huge Danske Bank Premiership clash at the Ballymena Showgrounds.
Sky Blues defender Kyle will square up to Crusaders striker Jordan and brotherly love will be swept into touch with a title on the line.
The champions are only a point clear of Linfield with only two games remaining and any slip-up at the home of David Jeffrey's side could see their hopes of securing a hat-trick of championship wins go up in smoke.
An unusual sub-plot in this titanic battle is the meeting of 24-year-old Kyle and 27-year-old Jordan, a family reunion which will be tense and possibly bruising.
Kyle is targeting a home win and a fourth-placed finish in the league ahead of Cliftonville who have just lost their manager, Gerard Lyttle.
Jordan is eyeing a title hat-trick and Crusaders' record goalscorer and his team-mates can feel Linfield's hot breath on their necks. The Blues, who face a tricky encounter at Coleraine today, have been relentless in keeping the pressure on the Hatchetmen but Stephen Baxter's side appear to have weathered a late storm.
There is certainly the potential today for relations to become a little frosty in the Owens family circle.
"Going into the game I'm not going to allow the fact that I'm playing against my brother enter my head," said Kyle, who had spells at Carrick, Dundela and Knockbreda.
"I love to see Jordan doing well and we are rightly proud of everything he has achieved in his career. If he wins another title I'll be delighted for him but on Saturday I want to beat him and I won't be backing down in any shape or form because my brother has a chance of winning something.
"My job is to win matches for Ballymena United and we will be doing everything in our power to beat them. It would be the same mentality against any opponents.
"I have huge respect for Jordan but there will be no brotherly love on the day. In fact, we will be enemies for the game and that's the reality of it.
"We are very close and our birthday is on the same day (July 9) though Jordan is 27 and three years older than me. We went to Portrush over the Easter holidays but the conversation can dry up a bit around big games. Funnily enough, he was marking me when I managed to get a header in which Colin Coates deflected into his own net, allowing us to win 2-1 at the Showgrounds in October. It was a great win considering we had Ross Glendinning sent off. I don't think he spoke to me for a day after that!"
Jordan admits he will not be impressed if Kyle inflicts significant damage on the Crues' title hopes but he's not dwelling on that nightmare scenario.
"It's a big game for both of us and we will play our normal game," he said. "I'll treat Kyle like any opponent and he'll do the same. We are concentrating on winning the game and as long as he doesn't score a winner we will be fine! Both of us have jobs to do for our teams and that's our focus.
"I don't think there's pressure on us, we have been more like ourselves in the last few matches and that never say die approach is working. We just need to get over the line now."
As a centre-back well used to aerial battles in the Irish League and foiling frontmen, Kyle is well placed to comment on the threat posed by his brother.
"In the last few games he has been on fire and that's what he does, he scores goals and when you have that big target man to aim for the boys around him can feed off him and score goals," added Kyle.
"As well as being strong in the air I just feel he is a player who has that fantastic habit of being in the right place at the right time. He won't score many 40-yard screamers but he works really hard in and around the box and sets up chances as well as finishes them. You could keep him quiet for 70 minutes and then he pops up with a crucial strike.
"I think Jordan is the hardest in the league to play against. There's a lot of good strikers like Andy Waterworth but you have a fair idea of what they are going to do whereas Jordan needs to be watched constantly.
"Crusaders know he can win the ball in the air and it's a hard tactic to defend against. When you've got Paul Heatley and Gavin Whyte ready to pounce, it makes it even more difficult." The Sky Blues were unable to record a win in five league games before a promising return to form in the 4-1 victory over Cliftonville on Tuesday night but this particular north Belfast side will be ready to rumble.
"Crusaders are the best team in the country and champions for a reason so it's a hugely difficult game for us but we want to finish the season on a high," added Kyle.
"It was great to get the win against Cliftonville and we were certainly due one. Everyone was relieved to get the victory and it has changed the mood around the place. We are looking at finishing in the top five with Cliftonville in our sights. Losing can become a bit of a habit so you need to break that sequence and get another winning run going. The boys always know they are capable of producing a big performance but you have to dig it out.
"They are chasing another league title but we know we can beat them if we perform. There's no reason why we can't take points off them.
"Linfield have a bit of momentum behind them and the pressure is on Crusaders to keep winning."
The Owens family is divided for a day.